Interview Guide

A Complete Interview Guide

Your resume or application impressed the hiring manager enough to win an interview. But you will only have one shot at presenting yourself in a way that will make you memorable . . . hopefully for all of the right reasons. Read on for some preparation tips.


Prepare for your upcoming interview


Always remember that you are in a competitive situation and these opportunities are highly coveted. Applicants who prepare and present themselves the best will walk away with an internship, entry-level position or fellowship. So preparation should be the same whether you are interviewing for a position at the local, regional or national level.


There are three steps for preparation.


Step 1: Have a working knowledge of the agency that is interviewing you.


Do not assume you know how the agency does business. Put your Google skills to the test and do some Internet research. Having factual information about the agency at your fingertips will give you a better feel for the type of environment you could be working in, how you might fit in, and what type of work you might be doing.


Look for the following types of information:


* What is the overall mission of the agency? What operational objectives have been established to help them meet that mission? How are these objectives carried out at the national, regional or local levels?


* Which branch of government is the agency located in: executive, legislative, judicial? Is there legislative committee oversight for agency work? Where does the Secretary of the agency report?


* Has the agency been in the news lately? Has that news been positive? Find several press releases that the agency has published recently.


Step 2: Develop a list of interview questions and responses.


Think about what types of questions you are likely to be asked and write down an appropriate response for each. Even the simplest question can trip you up, so practice, practice, practice. Practicing the answers will help you focus and give you confidence in a stressful situation.


Be prepared to spend at least an hour per interview. You may interview with one person, be escorted around to several interviews, or be asked to meet with a group. Regardless of the interview set-up, you will want to put your best foot forward.


Some basic tips:


* Your responses to interview questions should be short, simple, and sound natural -- not rehearsed. Back up each response with a brief, real-life example that supports your answer.


* Time your responses to between two and three minutes each. Determining how you might answer a question, in advance, will help to narrow down your response so you don't get carried away or come across as long-winded. And if you are the quiet type, preparing responses in advance will make it easier to talk about yourself.


* Preparation reduces stress and lets your true personality shine through. Your interviewer(s) also will do what they can to put you at ease.



Here are some of the most popular interview questions:


Tell us a little bit about yourself.


Sounds simple enough . . . do you start with early childhood and work your way to present day? Not a good idea if you want the job. Instead, narrow your response to your time in high school or college. Spend a few minutes talking about your personal and career interests as they might relate to the job and experiences you have had that prepared you to be a good addition to the staff.


Why are you interested in this position?


If you say you're the best be prepared to back it up. Why do you think you are the best? Piggy-back on one or two of your About You responses. This is the time to let your enthusiasm for the prospective position shine through.


What are your career goals?


Where do you see yourself one, three, five years from now? Picture yourself already comfortable in your first job and preparing to move onto the next one. What do you see yourself doing? What level of responsibility (within reasonable measures) do you see yourself holding? Where do you see yourself living?


How has your education prepared you to begin a career?


If you are still in high school, talk about your educational objectives after graduation. If you are in college, discuss how you decided on a major. This is also a good time to share more about yourself, such as explaining how your interests and activities outside of school have fueled your passion for what you would like to do.


What motivates you to do a good job?


This is where you can fall back on personal experience and identify the things that motivated you to excel. Think about your experience with a sports team, in a challenging class or working at your favorite paid or volunteer job.


What is your greatest strength?


You can come up with one or two examples pretty easily. Think about what employers would be looking for in a successful applicant: attributes such as leadership, good work ethic, organizational skills, working well under pressure, and problem solving. Don't forget to provide a real-life example that backs up your response.


What is your biggest weakness?


Nobody likes to answer this question. But let's be honest, everyone has at least one thing that needs improvement. It might be doing better at planning ahead, taking on a leadership role that means more hard work, or opening up to new experiences. Once you have identified your weakness, discuss your plan to overcome it.


Tell us what you know about the work we do.


This is where Internet research comes in handy. You can't bluff your way through this one. Have a few facts at hand to frame your response.


If you were asked by faculty members to describe the kind of student you have been, what would they say?


You can go one of two ways on this question: tell a funny story or give a serious response.  Either way, make your answer positive and upbeat.


Are you a good team player?


Prepare some examples from when you played in a team sport or participated in a team project. Talk about your unique contribution and how it helped lead the group to success.


How would you resolve a conflict with a co-worker?


We all have real examples to draw on with parents, siblings, friends or colleagues. If you have work examples, those are best to draw on. If not, think about an incident with a friend or acquaintance where things did not go your way. How did you handle that situation? Or maybe explain how you would have handled that situation differently if given the opportunity. There is nothing wrong with showing signs of maturity!


Why should we hire you?


This is where you demonstrate that have done your homework and have been a good listener throughout the interview process. Incorporate into your response some positive attributes and what you bring to the table. Tie in what you have heard they are looking for in a qualified or successful applicant.


Do you have any questions for us?


Be sure to take good notes during the interview so that you can choose something to follow up on or ask for clarification about, such as the duties of the position. You might ask what a regular day would look like for you, or the proposed start date for the job, or for an overview of the compensation package. This is not a good time to ask about vacation or indicate that you would like a different start or end time. Remember, this is just an interview, not a job offer . . . yet.


Step 3: Make a good first impression.


By the day of the interview you should have done your research and practiced responding to interview questions. Now make sure you look and act the part of a young professional. Follow these guidelines to make a positive impression, no matter your age or the potential position.


* Dress to Impress. Keep the focus on what you have to say, not your attire. Go through your wardrobe in advance and pick out an interview outfit that meets these guidelines:


* Leave the flip-flops in the closet; do wear nice flats or dress shoes.


* Trade the blue jeans and wrinkled shirt for dress pants or khakis and a clean, crisply-ironed shirt (tie for men; buttoned up for women.) If you are wearing a skirt or dress, make sure that it hits the knees, covers the upper body and has sleeves.


* Take off the black nail polish, cover any tats and remove extra earrings.


* Show up 10-15 minutes early. Arriving early allows time to collect yourself and hit the restroom after you have signed in.


* TURN YOUR CELL PHONE OFF. The world will wait 60 minutes for your return.


* Bring a notepad and pen to take good notes during the interview so you can ask follow-up questions.


* Introduce yourself to the receptionist and be friendly and polite to everyone you meet.


* Introduce yourself to the interviewer in a friendly, poised way.


* Make your handshakes firm, but not bruising.  Don't give limp or finger handshakes.


* If you are prone to nervous conversation, breathe deeply and relax.


* Know and use the interviewer's correct name and title.


* Collect his/her business card.


Nail the Interview


* Maintain good eye contact with your interviewers.


* Pay attention to their body language -- how are they responding to you and what information are they sharing with you?


* Think before your respond; remember some of the talking points your prepared in your mock interview.


* Graciously thank your host when you leave and don't forget to say good-bye to the receptionist.


* Immediately follow up with a thank you email to your host and others you interviewed with.


* Don't let the day end without sending an email to your host.


* Remember the receptionist? Ask him/her for the email addresses of those you met if you weren't able to collect their business cards. Send a thank you email to the receptionist as well.


Finally, thank everyone for the opportunity to interview. Reiterate your interest in the position and why you think you would be a good fit; if there is a question you forgot to ask, ask it now. End by letting them know you look forward to hearing from them and hope to meet them again soon.